The halo effect perfected to exquisite levels in Elizabeth Costello is once again employed to similar effect here But this time, the writer s own persona is the protagonist non grata What is left behind is what s compiled in this magnificent but flawed work another dynamite narrative by another dynamite author, about racism in latter 20th century South Africa In this instance, people women, mostly are interviewed, their experience with John Coetzee explored These tales are tragicomic, gorgeous in their concise vernacular, realistic in their anecdotal detail, and above all very astute, very piercing The halo effect, to me, means that we are afforded glimpses, albeit of a very human human being J Coetzee, reclusive, pained, but intuitive auteur, prefame through vastly different modes the squeezing of juice from every possible clue makes this effort an endearing one, often transcending the very story it is telling Which is what happens here Coetzee is the most CONSISTENT writer that I know of This one is yet another one of his, to study, to truly, well, squeeze as much as one can fromAlso, as years progress, it is awesome to see the tragedy level becoming a wee bit intertwined with scenes of joy, or experiences of true love, by the evolving writer Now, there is some awesome metalit element to his literature, as he, in the absurdly titled Summertime, is actually DEAD Basically, this may be one of the longest faux eulogies of all time one of the most unforgettable even the pronouncement of Fictions as a subheading for Summertime is a lie Instead of being short, various tales this novel, alas, is a pretty complete one. Summertime Is An Inventive And Inspired Work Of Fiction That Allows JM Coetzee To Imagine His Own Life With A Critical And Unsparing Eye, Revealing Painful Moral Struggles And Attempts To Come To Grips With What It Means To Care For Another Human BeingA Young English Biographer Is Researching A Book About The Late South African Writer John Coetzee, Focusing On Coetzee In His Thirties, At A Time When He Was Living In A Rundown Cottage In The Cape Town Suburbs With His Widowed Father A Time, The Biographer Is Convinced, When Coetzee Was Finding Himself As A Writer Never Having Met The Man Himself, The Biographer Interviews Five People Who Knew Coetzee Well, Including A Married Woman With Whom He Had An Affair, His Cousin Margot, And A Brazilian Dancer Whose Daughter Took English Lessons With Him These Accounts Add Up To An Image Of An Awkward, Reserved, And Bookish Young Man Who Finds It Hard To Make Meaningful Connections With The People Around Him Summertime Is An Inventive And Inspired Work Of Fiction That Allows JM Coetzee To Imagine His Own Life With A Critical And Unsparing Eye, Revealing Painful Moral Struggles And Attempts To Come To Grips With What It Means To Care For Another Human Being Incisive, Elegant, And Often Surprisingly Funny, Summertime Is A Compelling Work By One Of Today S Most Esteemed Writers late at night, absent people or drink, when it rages out in furnace fear, i think of you and whether it be simply that misery loves company or even though we do die alone, you remind me that we all do it so at least we re all connected in our aloneness your life and your words in some tiny tiny tiny way lessen the burden of existence as with my dog, i know that you will most likely die long before i do and it kind of makes me want to eat the shotgun knowing i ll be living in a world without jack and without coetzee, but if i did that my parents would be destroyed so i d have to kill them first and if i killed my parents and then myself it d really fuck up a whole bunch of people so i d have to take out my sister and her husband and some others and it d end up a real bloodbath and i couldn t very well do that rian malan said A colleague who has worked with Coetzee for than a decade claims to have seen him laugh just once An acquaintance has attended several dinner parties where Coetzee has uttered not a single word i love you so much john maxwell coetzee and even though your post elizabeth costello novels have been pretty weak they make me love you even than your earlier masterpieces too tired to explain myself despite your cool and austere exterior i relate to you and feel as close to you as anyone i ve never met you turn me into an 11 yr old boy creaming his jeans over britney or gaga you put before us a picture of human cruelty in a way no one else has and try to fashion out of your own life an impossibly gentle life, a life absent of all human cruelty you are a miserable failure you are ridiculous and sad and seem built to die alone and i love you because of, not in spite of, your failures. 4.5 Admittedly I haven t read the first two books of this fictionalised biography auto biography of a young man growing up in South Africa, Boyhood and Youth I also haven t read Disgrace, which won the Man Booker Prize in 1999 and sounds a lot like the story of the late John Coetzee of this book a professor leading a passionless life until he has an affair with a student so says the blurb The John of this book is also a Nobel Prize winner for literature, as is J.M Even without those books as background, this is an interesting device, letting us travel with a biographer who s researching the late Coetzee s life by interviewing people from his past whom he apparently noted himself were important to him The various voices are different enough that it reads like real interviews and real scrawled notes.It is obvious to me, an armchair expert yeah, right , that John is a good example of a person with Asperger s Syndrome All Aspies are different, but being socially awkward is reasonably common, and everyone describes John that way, although there s certainly to Asperger s and to John than that It s also important to remember that if J.M is writing about himself, he certainly understands his effect on others and writes about it cringingly well The book is broken into sections, one for each interviewee, and we sense a thread running through the stories They say he was an unremarkable man who held little real interest for them, and they re not quite sure how they got involved with him in the first place or why he thinks they re important In fact, all are a little embarrassed about it The women have an air of Shakespeare sThe lady doth protest too much methinksIf he s so dull, why do they keep saying things likejust one story, and then I m finishedJulia is first She noticed him shopping, and doesn t he sound like a real catchIn appearance he was not what most people would call attractive He was scrawny, he had a beard, he wore horn rimmed glasses and sandals He looked out of place, like a bird, one of those flightless birds or like an abstracted scientist who had wandered by mistake out of his laboratory There was an air of seediness about him too, an air of failure I guessed there was no woman in his life, and it turned out I was rightShe says she is always conscious of when a man is looking at her, but she never once felt that about him She met him only when he picked up her dropped rolls of wrapping paper and disconcertingly to her pressed them into her breast as he returned them This felt so intimate, that while she intended to avoid him, she stalked him, seduced him, and had an affair She still talks about him as if he s dull, silly for wasting his life living with his ill father But she keeps talking, and talking, and talking about her husband, HIS affairs, her dissatisfaction, her bringing John into her household, her going to his ramshackle cottage and meeting his father Julia does ramble on He clearly made an impression, and she enjoyed the verbal sparringHe ran his life according to principles, whereas I was a pragmatist Pragmatism always beats principles that is just the way things are The universe moves, the ground changes under our feet principles are always a step behind Principles are the stuff of comedy Comedy is what you get when principles bump into reality I know he had a reputation for being dour, but John Coetzee was actually quite funny A figure of comedy Dour comedy Which, in an obscure way, he knew, even accepted That is why I still look back on him with affection If you want to knowAnd then she told him he ought to find a woman to look after him and get married Cousin Margot is next, and she is embarrassed both by him and for him They were children together, but as adults, she is uncomfortable with him like everyone else When they are stranded overnight in a truck, a farmer rescues them in the morning, and she speaks Afrikaans with him It s second nature for her,whereas the Afrikaans John speaks is stiff and bookish Half of what John says probably goes over Hendrik s head Which is poetic, do you think, Hendrik the rising sun or the setting sun A goat or a sheepShe reckons her family s days are numbered since the Koup The Coetzees are all lazy, slack, spineless, yet she d had higher hopes for John and his bookish ways.Her sister Carol finally spills the beans about John some of which we know from earlier and some of which roughly matches J.M s history She calls him stuck upHe lives with his father, but only because he has no money He is thirty something years old with no prospects He ran away from South Africa to escape the army Then he was thrown out of America because he broke the law Now he can t find a proper job because he is too stuck up The two of them live on a the pathetic salary his father gets from the scrapyard where he worksWhen Margo asks John if he s relieved to be back home after leaving America, he saysBut practically speaking, what future do I have in this country, where I have never fitted in Perhaps a clean break would have been better after all Cut yourself free of what you love and hope that the wound healsThe biographer interviews others, including one man, a colleague, who explains that they met and became friends when they applied for the same teaching position at the University of Cape Town The biographer quotes from John s own notes about himself and the interview, that he feels he s handled badlyHe has taken the question too literally, responding too briefly They want something leisurely, expansive whether he would fit in in a provincial university that is doing its best to maintain standards in difficult time, to keep the flame of civilization burning In America, where they take job hunting seriously, people like him, people who don t know how to read the agenda behind a question, can t speak in rounded paragraphs, don t put themselves over with conviction in short, people deficient in people skills attend training sessions where they learn to look the interrogator in the eye, smile, respond to questions fully and with every appearance of sincerity Presentation of the self that is what they call it in America, without ironyIt s a rambling, piece meal collection of what sound like reminiscences and notes and embarrassing anecdotes, but by the end, I actually had a clear picture of an interesting man who was trapped by circumstance and escaped into his intellect.And if John is J.M., then I m glad he moved to South Australia and became an Aussie. We know that Coetzee is one of the most beautiful feathers ever, an indisputable Nobel laureate Infinitely personal here is an object close to the autobiography but completely original by its construction There is fiction since the author entrusts the task of a posthumous portrait to an academic who welcomes and puts into form five testimonies that could prove to be major for the understanding of the Coetzee man Alternately expressed Julia, former mistress of John, Margot, her cousin, Adriana, Brazilian dancer and mother of a young Maria Regina to whom he gave English lessons, Martin, a former rival at university Cape, and Sophie an old link, faculty colleague, always in Cape Town All these interviews take place forty years after the evoked period, approximately 1972, in a very apartheid South Africa but, surprisingly, very exploded with a particular individualization of the Cape region, a kind of South Africa of Africa From South.Thus constructed boldly the story may seem a bit disjointed at the first testimony since Coetzee died in this book and a third is responsible for establishing biographical elements But we quickly became passionate about writing, often peppered with Afrikaans terms, is disturbing, and the personality of the man JMCoetzee is complex It s a euphemism to say that the writer does not appear as a hero, a champion of progress, a charismatic teacher, or even a neighbor, friend or lover It seems that the five protagonists have all suffered in their relations with Coetzee, sometimes a little derisory, comical, sometimes hopeless This book, let us not forget, has been written by a very lively Coetzee, who may be thought to have summoned himself to put himself, if not at least, in question I find the approach interesting although not having read the first two books of this vast autobiography As for this book itself, it will be said of this self inquiry that it is cloudy, bushy, contradictory, literally elaborate but above all, especially not hagiographic If you read the South African authors, you would already have an intense pleasure as the soil is fertile. It has been a very long time since I read something that original The premise of the book is so unusually incisive, so creative in itself Coetzee writes his own biography, post his fictive death, as strung together through his notebooks and the interviews of some of his contemporaries.Behind the dry humor and subtle self deprecation, there are some very serious underlying themes, mostly pertaining to life in South Africa in the 70 s, Afrikaners, natives, Apartheid etc but also dealing with elder parent care, teaching, and of course, writing as a pursuit and a process.I am so impressed by this book Of all the three in series Scenes from a Provincial life , this was the one I had highest hopes from Because this was the book that would relate to the period in his life when he was actually writing novels and so, closer or in the period of his greatness It was disappointing because author actually increased the distance from his person by trying to see himself from point of view of other people The diary entries in the begining and the end might be truthful but the interviews in the middle seemed all made unless Coetzee had come up with an idea of time travel or inter dimension travel, written as they are, as interviews of some of people once close to C by a fictional biographer after C s death Now this kind of thing presents than one kind of issue First, none of the people in general and women in particular interviews have been taken seemed to like Coetzee a lot One wonders whether Coetzee isnt making their opinions of himself too critical something common with first two instalments of this series tooPragmatism always beats principles that is just the way things are The universe moves, the ground changes under our feet principles are always a step behind Principles are the stuff of comedy Comedy is what you get when principles bump into reality I know he had a reputation for being dour, but John Coetzee was actually quite funny A figure of comedy Dour comedy Which, in an obscure way, he knew, even accepted That is why I still look back on himSecondly, they probably won t be as honest to make the admissions even if Coetzee was to die Thirdly, with most writers, it seems to me, the best part is their inner lives which is not available to observation of outsidersAnd how fortunate that most people, even people who are no good at straight out lying, are at least competent enough at concealment not to reveal what is going on inside them, not by the slightest tremor of the voice or dilation of the pupilCoetzee seems to be labouring under the idea common to so many idealist intellectuals loners, or less self created ones as against university created institutional intellectuals that they do not belong to the world That their inability to behave normally to imitate the social ways make them unlikeable to others which isn t always true or Coetzee wouldn t have ever become a famous author It is a shame that he must so orignal a person should have so low an opinion of himself It hardly seems to make him a very good autobiographer But that being said, he is still a very good writer with orignal ideas and ways of looking at the world and this shows up on this book too.On convenience racism Breytenbach left the country years ago to live in Paris, and soon thereafter queered his pitch by marrying a Vietnamese woman,that is to say, a non white, an Asiatic He not only married her but, if one is to believe the poems in which she figures, is passionately in love with her Despite which, says the Sunday Times, the Minister in his compassion will permit the couple a thirty day visit during which the so called Mrs Breytenbach will be treated as a white person, a temporary white, an honorary white Other QuotesNo one is immortal Books are not immortal The entire globe on which we stand is going to be sucked into the sun and burnt to a cinder After which the universe itself will implode and disappear down a black hole Nothing is going to survive, not me, not you, and certainly not minority interest books about imaginary frontiersmen in eighteenth century South Africa But to the barbarians, as Zbigniew Herbert has pointed out, irony is simply like salt you crunch it between your teeth and enjoy a momentary savour when the savour is gone, the brute facts are still there Music isn t about fucking, I went on Music is about foreplay It s about courtship You sing to the maid What an odd book The author writes it as though he is someone else writing his biography after his death Parts of it were very strange and parts of it were hard to understand As someone who was living in South Africa in the late 70 s I really enjoyed the African references and being able to practice the little Afrikaans I still remember Apart from that though I guess I was not really enamoured of the book although I feel encouraged to maybe try another of his books in the near future. Apparently this is the third of a type of trilogy I did not know that I bought it because it was short Sorry, John I was on vacation at the beach It was called Summertime It was available in paperback and I was low on cash. What I got when I began to read was infinitely There are some books that affect us so deeply the 15.00 price seems ludicrous Admittedly, I am a lousy fan There are few authors whose complete works I ve read, no matter how much I admire their writing Fewer still about whom I know anything personal Summertime is a fictionalized biography Interviews for a biography and notes written by the subject himself, really an unfinished work This furthers the impression of looking in on a life the naturalness of it, the side of biographies we don t normally see It s an engaging portrait of a man, a writer, an artist, possibly even Coetzee himself All those things It s wise and beautiful and wry and, if not a strictly factual account of his life, perhaps it gives a truer glimpse of him For what great writer writes anything without showing us something of themselves One of the things I do know about him is his famed evasiveness He seems disturbed by the rockstar writer phenomenon and plays with that here The biographer interviews the women that have most impacted the great author s life What indelible mark did he leave on their own Disappointment He was only a man A man who was alive within himself, than out He couldn t dance To express himself without words lots and lots of words was nearly impossible Yet he rarely spoke The painful awkwardness of being human is captured perfectly as he seems to slyly poke fun at both himself and the rest of us The women are repeatedly referred to as his conquests or his women , but it s clear in each case that it s him who has been conquered As they speak of their relations with him, detailing his failings, they reveal of themselves and their own shortcomings That s not to say they re unlikable More real They re strong, self determined women, both touched and frustrated by this man He speaks a different language, figuratively And so he can be no to them than South Africa in flux transitory, impermanent Disappointment They move on The one constant, from beginning to end, is his father Always in his mind, his memory, the reality of caring for him always a silent presence in his relationships with women For that reason the story feels like an apology To the women who never knew how much they meant to him And to his father, for trying to live while he is dying. After Boyhood and Youth, I expected another searing self portrait told in calm and beautifully measured third person What I got is autobiography in quite a revolutionary form the women who knew Coetzee in his early thirties are interviewed about the now dead author Utterly engaging, filled with awkward intimacy and painful slip ups, Summertime is the best book in the trilogy, the best book I ve read in a year.Another interesting aspect of the book so many greats have written their portraits of the artists as young men Goethe, Flaubert, Joyce, and Coetzee himself spring to mind But I ve never read a self examination focusing on this point beyond youth, young manhood , I suppose the trials by fire after self awareness has cemented and the moral compass has been set, but before artistic recognition occurs.
John Maxwell Coetzee is an author and academic from South Africa He became an Australian citizen in 2006 after relocating there in 2002 A novelist and literary critic as well as a translator, Coetzee has won the Booker Prize twice and was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature.
- 266 pages
- Summertime: Scenes from a Provincial Life III
- J.M. Coetzee
- 06 May 2019 J.M. Coetzee